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Newsletter Issue 31 : Dec 1, 2010 - Dec 31, 2010

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Keeping Senior Citizens Safe

excerpts from a blog by Vijay Govindarajan

India has a whopping 60 million senior citizens, even though it's a young country overall. (That 60 million represents only 5% of the population.) Providing those seniors with good health care is a growing problem. This is partly because of changes in the family structure — the "joint family system" under which extended Hindu families lived under the same roof and cared for both young children and elders communally has been in decline for some time now. Also, many young people have moved to developed countries.

But the problem is also in part due to the fact that the healthcare infrastructure is inadequate, especially in rural areas. Any innovation that can bring healthcare facilities closer to people, at a minimal cost, can save precious lives. It can also save the government and the insurance companies a lot of money.

Munoth Communications, an Indian Telecom Company, was quick to realize this potential in the senior citizen segment and came up with a unique mobile phone, costing less than US $50. In case of an emergency, the customer can simply press the red SOS button on the mobile phone to raise an alarm. The phone automatically sends out text messages to 10 pre-configured numbers, including that of the ambulance service, the blood group agency, and the insurance company. Further, the GPS system in the phone helps responders to trace the location of the patient.

The phone can also help with day-to-day concerns. After buying the phone, the user can register the mobile phone on the web and store all of his or her medical records. Based on the patient's medical condition, the company sends out pre-programmed reminders about taking medication and maintaining dietary restrictions; this service is free of cost for one year. After the first year, the user is charged just US $0.67 per month for these services. Currently the company offers this service only to diabetes patients, but will soon extend it to cardiac patients.

The phone's design was inspired by the simple on/off switch on a torch light (flash light). Basic features on the phone, including a torch light, a lock/unlock option, and a radio, are managed with on/off switches on either side of the phone, instead of a more complex keyboard or smartphone screen, which most older people in India would find confusing: simply pressing on or off, on the other hand, is intuitive, simple, and easy to remember in an emergency. The company is now targeting sales of nearly 25,000 mobiles, with expected revenue of around US $1.25 million, per month.

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